Chapter 9 here … Chapter 11 here
The difficult thing,' Hugh explained to the Prime Minister when the latter visited, Emma sitting on another chair, 'is that having lost one's memory in specific areas, people tend to have deep sympathy, in the sense that one is now an imbecile - for example, I don't remember you, sir but I do recognize, from our conversation, that I must have worked for you and that you deemed it of sufficient value to be having this conversation with me now. Snippets from Emma confirm this too. Those sorts of strategies go on the whole time in the head.'
'Yet the gaps must be annoying, perhaps even dispiriting.'
'Not knowing is unnerving at times. I might have had a fight with someone and now I meet him or her, I can't work out how I've offended. Emma will feed me most of what happened, it will be my stand-by memory bank and hopefully, that will suffice.'
'You were very lucky, you know.'
'Yes, I'm very grateful. I haven't forgotten everything - scenes from my childhood, even later, some people in Russia. Why Russia I can’t imagine but let’s leave that one.'
'But it becomes less the closer you are to the present? Yes, I thought so. Are you aware how your injury happened, Hugh - do you wish to know?'
'I was on a mission, I went north to rescue an operative,' the PM smiled to himself at how much Emma had told him, 'and I was shot in the back by the enemy. Emma was shot too but she was elsewhere, with this Rory.'
'She knows most but not all.'
'Then, if you'll tell me?'
The PM looked at Emma who was resigned to all things eventually being told. 'You'd gone north to meet up with an agent named Julia.' He paused to see if there was any recognition but there wasn't. 'She caused you to be shot - some snipers - as you were both collected by helicopter. But you know that part. Later - before we knew about her of course - when we sent her back to Britain on a job - she shot her partner Rory and R shot her.'
'R, yes. That rings a bell.' He instantly saw Emma relax and was going to think that relaxation through when he had a chance. Emma knew that and resented it.
'She was quite ... taken with you, this Julia and possibly felt guilt at what she'd done. It was a sad case.'
'Did I ... care for her?'
'We don't actually know. We think perhaps yes, given how she reacted to your injury.'
'And then there is this.' He reached into his jacket, extracted an envelope and handed it over. Hugh, took out the enclosure, a photograph and Emma saw the spark of recognition, the shock on his face.
'May I see it?' she asked. He passed it across. It was a picture of a younger Julia on a bike, almost a child, looked a professional shot - part of a portfolio? Her expression was her idea of alluring, which was not alluring to Emma but the very amateurishness was in itself alluring. The yellow backless dress showed up her arching back, the short hem was ... inviting. Emma knew enticing when she saw it and this was enticing. And Hugh had had that photograph, it had gone to the PM quickly and here it was.
She looked at Hugh. ‘You were lovers but did not do all of it. Rory was with me but also we didn’t do all of it.'
The silence was eventually broken by the Prime Minister. 'So, we're here to collect you. Do you feel up to it?'
'Now's as good a time as any.'
As he struggled to piece it all together, using every clue, every nuance, every facial expression, this did not endear him at all to her and she said so.
He apologized but pressed on, as eager new learners do. 'What of our issues - was it really that bad?'
She let her breath out and again, that gave her away. 'We did have issues.'
'Care to tell me?'
'When you came to our Section, in Paris, I was the one who looked after the security and you were Mademoiselle's paramour.' She explained the Section further and then about Mademoiselle. Much later, after being on the run in Europe, we found ourselves in England, with you as a head of a new Section and me as your secretary.'
'Ah, I think I know what's coming. You were jealous.'
She was shocked the way he was just coming out with ... the truth ... as if it didn't matter. 'It ... wasn't all your fault. Not completely. You and I had always been a team but now it was unbalanced in your favour ... at least it seemed like that to me.'
'Hugh, you shouldn't apologize for something which is the old you. This is the new you and I like it - it's more like the early you, as I said. I'd really like if we could move on now, not keep going over the past.'
'All right - more pleasant things, eh? Did we ... make love?'
She smiled. 'Like rabbits.'
He relaxed. 'Oh, I like that. Oh yes, more of that please. Does that still hold true now?'
'I've been waiting.'
He couldn't believe all his birthdays had come at once. 'You called me Bebe before. Did I call you anything?'
'You used to call me Fayette, the fairy in French, when we made love.'
'Were we ... important people like ... or were we just part of a team or what were we?'
'We became quite important - we both worked for the Prime Minister - but as we did, our problems increased.'
'So, it would be better if we were not important.'
'We have no choice. There are things we must do, as officers of the state now.'
He shuffled across on the bed and it was on. She was crying as he made love to her and then, a rarity, she shuddered and pushed gently at his chest.
He pulled out. 'Like rabbits, you say?'
'Yes,' she breathed unevenly and grinned, then lay beside him. ‘Like rabbits.’ He held her close and caressed her, as if he adored her and she never wanted it to end. If only he could have a bit of amnesia part of the time but not enough to impair his functioning in other ways ...
'This Rory, I bet you were thinking of going to him if I remained a vegetable,' he laughed, as if he’d told a joke.
'Have you no sensitivity? We've just made love - you and me, not you and her, not me and someone else.'
'Sorry, so terribly sorry ... Fayette.' He cuddled her, cradled her. 'Don't be upset. I think you've been under great emotional strain. It's all I need to know, I'm happy.'
'No, I'll tell you the rest of it now. I wanted Rory very much and did think of leaving you at that stage. You see, you'd gone north to meet this Julia as part of the mission but I think you could have sent Sophie, you had relations with this girl but according to her, it didn't go all the way. When I got back here, I saw she was crazy for you.'
'The killer, you mean. The one in the photo.'
'Yes. But she killed the man I had thoughts about. I was lost, Hugh, lost without you, lost without Rory, I didn't go all the way with him but I was ready. People were appalled – there you were -'
‘Don’t keep saying terrible things like that. And don’t keep saying sorry.’
He closed his mouth and rationalized it. 'We can't help who we fall in love with. This happens, Emma. Even if it had gone into an affair – well, these things happen.'
'It's much worse. I want this out now. A couple of nights ago – you were still in the coma, Sophie invited me to the river and she had a man out in the water. They came to the shore and I fellated him.’
‘I know the word, it’s sexual. Not 100% on what it means but I get the idea. Hmmmm – why?’
She burst out in a fresh torrent of tears and he reached over to the table, grabbed a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes, she took it over and said thanks.
‘I don’t know why. I needed you, I did that with you at the start, I don’t know. I just did and then it all stopped. Then you came back. I'll go to the Big House to live now - there's a room up there for me. I know you can't want me now.'
His lack of reaction was the most unnerving, then he eventually asked, 'Did you consider yourself married to me during that time?'
'Don't, Hugh, don’t do that. Think about what you’re saying. That's the worst part of it. Did you think about me when you were with Julia? We don’t think at that moment but then, later, that’s all about our partner.’
‘So this is a new beginning.’
‘If you could ever want me again.’
‘Could you stop doing all that?’
‘It would never have happened if you’d been awake and near. We’d have done what we’re doing now – being together.’
He just said, ‘Come in, Sophie.'
They'd both heard the approach of those feet - in other words, the soft noiselessness of Sophie Magdalena, as she came in and sat down. 'Emma's just been explaining you, her and that man at the river.'
There was utter silence.
'Yes,' said Sophie. 'On the beach.'
‘You care for Emma.’
‘I’d like to think so.’
‘And I care for you too.’
Sophie chose her words with care. 'You flirt, you enjoy women. I think you've slept with other women, I know you and Mademoiselle Genevieve were a couple. I've heard you went with Emma when you were with someone else. She was in love with you when you lost your partner, you came to love her more and she seemed to lose that love.'
'I never lost it,' said Emma. 'Things happened, that's all.'
'I need time with Sophie,’ he said, ‘I need to walk with her and ask about you. I know you don't want that but I'd do it anyway when you were not there. I'll be asking about chances, about you and me, I won't be making a play for Sophie. Sophie and I are not married, you and I are. I need you to trust her to tell the truth.'
‘When you go out of that door, Hugh, you'll hear whispers about me, people will call me names. My heart is in your hands when you go with her now.'
'I won't be long. Let me have this time. It’s when you have someone you need to understand and need to bounce ideas off a friend. Seems Sophie’s our friend. That’s if Sophie accepts this.'
Sophie looked at her, then at him and shrugged. As she got up and went out, he couldn't help feeling how feline she was.
He was still quite wonky but was more mobile than Emma. Immediately, he said, 'Take me to where it happened with you, her, the other two.'
'Because life decisions are going to be made. Because I do these things quickly.'
'I know. Don't forget I know most things about you, I worked with you, I watched you.'
'Good, that makes it easier.'
They reached the sand and sat roughly where it had happened. He said not a word but now looked about. 'Pretty spot.' She nodded. 'Now tell me the truth of how it really happened, leave nothing out, don't excuse yourself. You’re not a spy for me, you’re not a rat to Emma, you simply have a lot of control over things at this moment because of my memory. I’ll say this – I think you’ll never lie to me and I need that now more than anything. If you hold back, you’re not doing what you should.'
She delivered it all - why she'd suggested it, how it had happened, what Emma's reaction had been. She wanted to be honest because she did entertain thoughts of this man but also did not want him - he wasn't really her type - and yet he was and if they were together, he would look after her. Yet Emma needed her chance. She was therefore being brutally honest.
'Would you say Emma would have done that if I'd not been unconscious?'
'It was because the things you both had had died and so her old habits came back. If she's cared for though, if she's important to the people she cares for - same for anyone – she would not have I think. You would never be looking over your shoulder, not if she promised you – she does keep her promises.'
'Until she thinks I am neglecting her when I might be busy or worried. Or until someone else comes along.'
'That's one thing about you she does not like and nor do I. You have to stop this thinking, you have to realize how we operate. She invested a lot in you, ceded control of some parts of herself – I know you did too, I know that. With you in a coma, maybe never coming out, there was a good chance of that actually, she would only ever be your nurse.
She needed arms, just as anyone does, Rory was dead, she confused her past with what she needed now. I can't tell you what you want to know - would she do that to you again? How can I know? She can't be controlled, she decides something and does it. Sometimes you have to take a chance. Only you can decide that.'
'How close were you and me?'
'I don't want to talk about that. I was grateful to you. I do care. You are her husband. Some people would think it strange that you went with another woman to find out about yourself.'
'I wouldn't if I knew the past. But I know there was something with you – your last comment betrays it – and you’re keeping it to yourself. So there are feelings. I know you’re a good woman, maybe not an angel, you are probably a handful,’ Sophie smiled at that, 'and I have a feeling I love you. Weird, that. I’m speaking to a woman about having loved her, not knowing but at the same time – knowing.’
‘Concentrate on the future, Hugh. This is the chance to start again with your life. Make your decisions yourself, not on my say-so, though I think you needed this kick-start. Let me tell Emma this conversation – I don’t want to be between you.'
‘Yes, that’s not a problem.'
'Can you forgive her?'
'Forgive, forgive? Me a vegetable? Her released from her promise in a way? I think that if she and I fell out in an earlier life, there was probably fault each way. This is possibly the only way back, to start over. Shall we walk back?'
'I'm staying here.'
'Sophie - thank you. I’m kissing your forehead and you can report that too.’
Emma’s anxiety was palpable as she lay in bed. He climbed in with her and lay on his back like her.
No one spoke for some time. She looked across and tentatively put out a hand, resting it on his cheek. He didn't pull away but nor did he respond. Then he did speak.
‘Sophie will report to you, word for word what she said to me, what I said to her, she says she doesn’t want to come between us.' He saw her relief. ‘I kissed her forehead at the end and said thanks. She will tell you word for word what we said later. I need to know better why we fell out. It seems more that we drifted apart and did not make a huge effort to repair it early enough. I think I must have been unreasonable but I also think you must have been too – expecting something was the case when it wasn’t really. I used the word jealous before and you didn’t disagree.’
'May I answer? We’ve actually discussed it already. There’s not much more on this topic. I thought you’d moved on, didn’t need my help any more.’
‘Yes, it seems that way to me too. We’ll start again now if you want to.’
‘Please. For goodness sake, please.’
A month and a bit had passed. Preparations had been made which the Prime Minister had passed off as regular exercises but many on the island must have known were for the exodus.
True they'd been doing these things all along, such as making sure the submarine pods were in working order, overhauling the armaments and so on but there was a feeling - that hard to define something.
Another development was unfortunate. Emma was less mobile than Hugh as he recovered, she tended to go to set places - to a viewpoint on a hill which she enjoyed, to the beach but never to that infamous spot, under a large tree near the Big House and so on.
Hugh essentially, when he wasn't listening to tales of the past, was doing the fetch and carry, often to Jujun and had started looping round to one of his favoured spots on the beach on his journeys. He'd taken Emma there a few times now and she’d owned it was scenic but it also reminded her so she tended to avoid it.
He was there now alone, before returning to the Big House but now he heard movement in the rushes. Sophie stepped onto the sand and she was not clothed. She sat two metres away, hands around her knees.
‘There’s some point to the nakedness, Sophie?’
‘You’re going to say something to me.’ He sat down.
‘I couldn’t answer about Emma when we spoke because I had a vested interest I was passing up. I’m still passing it up but coming down here and finding you now – I gasped and I’ll tell you, things went through my mind. All my defences went up and yet you’ve not done anything. But I’m not an idiot and I know you’re susceptible to me. The last one you were susceptible to was Julia. I’ve seen you in action, don’t forget.’
‘My guardian angel?’
‘Not when I’m an interested party. You would, wouldn’t you? With me. We’re talking academically.’
He looked at her, then down at the sand.
She went on. ‘My heart might have a place for you but my head says we’re leaving this island soon and you two – Emma and you – will have to be together and functioning. I’m invested in that too. Those are my conflicting loyalties.’
‘I’m not telling Emma that one.’
‘Thank you. And now I’m going, before anything happens.’
Hugh was walking up to the Big Room when he heard footsteps running behind him, he waited and the PM’s boy appeared from the river direction, breathless. ‘Go Lock-up A now. Men dead.’
'Go straight through and explain.' The boy ran up the steps and through to tell the Prime Minister.
A quick decision was taken. 'Sophie, take Hugh with you, fill him in on the situation, the layout of the island, put all the factors to him and between you take the initial action you both need to. Collect Rankin and Jarvis on the way.’
The boy spoke. ‘No Rankin sir, he dead.’
‘So, it’s started,’ muttered the Prime Minister. He walked over to the desk, extracted his old service revolver, loaded, rang for Mara, she came through from her end room and he shot her between the eyes. She collapsed to the floor. Hugh’s mouth dropped open, the PM put the pistol down on his desk, went into her room and brought back a cardboard box of odds and sods.
He rummaged through, found what he was looking for, a list, then indicated that the three of them would go to the island. To Sophie's questioning glance as to the advisability of someone in Hugh's condition going into a combat situation, the PM said, 'I need his nose there. I need your fearlessness.'
The chopper landed on the open area in front of the Big House and there were already eight on board. The three of them got on and swung away, across to Jujun, hovered over Building A, dropped the charge, it went straight through the matted roof, they assumed the gas had spread and dropped the second a little further along, above the officers’ mess.
The pilot gave it another three minutes, landed, the troops alighted and began their routine, the copter lifted off and hovered, the sergeant came out and signalled, the copter landed again, the sergeant bobbed down, came over and stuck his head inside.
‘They’re out like a light. There are bodies too, gunshots. We need to move now.
As people recovered, they took in the change of fortune and didn't quite know what to do. Hugh asked the freed hostages to congregate in the officer's room and they filed out, followed by the PM and Sophie.
Left in the secure area were the hostage-takers but according to the list, some of the hostages were collaborating. They'd find out.
The Prime Minister had everyone sit on the floor, bar Sophie and him who sat on stools, Hugh was over by the outer doorway, observing.
From what everyone said, Vine was the main agitator and Patterson was clearly the henchman but the principals were not the killers.
Hugh had his eye on one of the speakers, a Chloe. He had no proof, he had only a hunch and now he took two of those he considered observant lads outside and grilled them about this Chloe; they departed for the base camp.
Back inside, the PM wanted to know about Collins and Dammery. Corporal Chloe David spoke quickly. ‘I really can’t be sure about Damerie. Collins is innocent though.’
‘I overheard Collins and Corporal David deciding whether to go over to Building B.’
Ms David swung around on Private Parkes. ‘You fucking liar – you’re the one who was talking to Collins.’
Parkes didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘I repeat what I just said. It was those two. I don’t know what they’d planned over there but I did hear them agree to it.’
‘You bastard, you –’
Hugh stepped in. 'Sir, I have two men due to return in about five minutes. I've been watching the Corporal since this talk began.'
'Fine,' said the PM. 'Then we'll just wait. In the meantime, take Miss David to the other room -'
The young woman let out a shriek, which became a wail, she lost all composure and fell to her knees. 'Please, please,' she cried, 'it wasn't me, it wasn't. I'm being set up here. Is there no justice? Don't put me in there with them - they'll ... do things to me.' Her breath had become jerky and her face white as a sheet. One of the NCOs indicated with his weapon, she refused to get up or move in any way, two other NCOs came over and dragged her by the arms to the next room, threw her in and locked the door.
She was shrieking and banging on the door, to everyone's horror, most of the hostage-takers now observing her with grins.
Sergeant Jarman came through, out of breath from running hard. 'Sir,' he panted in the direction of the Prime Minister, 'Terry's been shot. We went to Chloe David's room, he went through first and they shot him. I ran back here.'
Sophie had gone to Hugh who now took one of the NCO's radios and put through a call; Chloe David's screaming and banging on the other side of the door would have woken the dead.
It had been a bizarre seven minutes, Lt. Knowles came through the outer door, the Prime Minister immediately nodded to the six NCOs, Chloe David had stopped screaming, one NCO unlocked the door, the others poured through and it was over in seconds.
Vine and Patterson had her down on the floor, Vine ripping her clothing with a knife, they got bullets to the head, anyone with a weapon had bullets within the second.
Some of the hostages who went to the newly constructed safe area had been on Mara's list and they were being watched.
Back in the Big Room, Mara had been removed and the blood cleaned up, some stiff drinks took care of the most immediate trauma and the Prime Minister did not beat around the bush.
‘We leave tomorrow morning. We’ve lost all contact with the old country now but the head man will be hear shortly and he always knew this day would come to pass. We load ourselves into pods, keep under water and head for one of three islands.
These islands would not automatically suggest themselves to the current UK government, which is still ensconcing itself by last reports - but that was time ago now. Eventually, whoever is clawing his way to the top will turn his attention to us. The insurrection presages action from them but still they can't outright attack because of international attention on this island. It will be a natural disaster. Tsunami most like.
I’m not going to raise your hopes – one day they will get us but if we diverge like this, some might survive to continue the species. Here are the groups as I’ve listed them. Naturally, if there is severe dissent, we’ll rearrange them:
The groupings on their copies comprised:
Group 1: Western Tearoa
1 Prime Minister S deG 
2 R 
3 Major Ron Tarpley 
4 Janine Falworth 
5 Captain Miles Holland 
6 Lieutenant Felicity Holland 
7 Sergeant Jason Francis 
8 WNCO Louisa Francis 
9 Sergeant Jacob Dayan 
10 WNCO Rachel Dayan 
11 Sergeant Peter Graves 
12 WNCO Patricia Graves 
Group 2: Gran Antides Island
1 Hugh Jensen 
2 Emma Jensen – de la Mere 
3 Captain Laurence Sanders 
4 Sophie Magdalena 
5 Lieutenant Adam Brothers 
6 WNCO Lisa Benson 
7 Sergeant Sam Hoddle 
8 WNCO Rachel Bailey 
9 Sergeant Nicholas Davidson 
10 WNCO Mandy Davis 
11 Sergeant Raymond Booth 
12 WNCO Susannah Hennessy 
Group 3: Santa Cordova
1 Major-General Walter Hamilton 
2 Elizabeth Hamilton 
3 Major Walter Stretton 
4 Lieutenant Gillian Prentice 
5 Captain Cameron Lockett 
6 Mary Lockett 
7 Sergeant Paul Franco 
8 WNCO Susan Hodges 
9 Sergeant Ronald Davis 
10 WNCO Pamela Davis 
11 Sergeant Mark Jackson 
12 WNCO Susan Jackson 
‘Hamilton?’ asked Hugh, when the PM came back over to rejoin them, topping up the glasses.
‘He’s on one of our outlying islands at this time. It was wise to not to list the two of them on the rolls because he’s a wanted man in the UK, far more so than the rest of us. And no, I can’t go into it.
The natives will be taken care of in the form of a ‘Grand Trek’ across the ocean to also take place tomorrow, provisions having been stowed on board their proas already. We can’t realistically take these people with us.
Now the ORs. They’re being flown in batches to friendly countries, the carrot being the gift of weaponry carried on board, we're a veritable arsenal here, plus their expertise. They'll be assimilated, we hope and then they run the gamut of the local nation’s politics. Any further comments or questions at this point?’
'Corporal David?' asked Hugh.
'Innocent. Loud and coarse but that was all.'
'Janine?' asked Sophie.
'Back tomorrow morning. She's been our roving ambassador, so to speak.'
‘Those who wish to marry, we’ll marry them on the beach tomorrow morning. It won’t be pretty because we’ll have just the things we’re departing in, the supplies and the equipment. There’ll be four pods per group, three people in each pod.’
‘That’s going to split couples,’ said Hugh.
‘In some cases and only temporarily. I’ll be very sad to see the loss of two thirds of my staff but I’ll do my regretting once we get there. What else?’
‘Medicines, medical help? asked Sophie.
‘There are medicines and natural remedies as well, plus a myriad food seeds – heirloom, not hybrids, a rooster and chicken in each pod. Fishing will supplement it initially. There’s a copy of each text on medicine, First Aid, etc. etc. in one of the pods in each group. You’ll need to take lessons and at least one medical practitioner is in each group. His or her job is to teach the others as soon as possible.'
'And Laurence Sanders?' asked Sophie.
‘He’s a senior officer over on Jujun and unattached so far. He’ll be patient enough and caring enough but of course, it’s up to you what happens once you get to your island.’
‘What if I want someone else.’
‘I’ve just said, Sophie –’
‘No, I mean someone altogether different?’
‘Be my guest. You can go across to Waina tonight and pick one, if he’ll agree to go with you. We’ll rearrange the group tomorrow morning.’
‘You’re not giving us any time.’
‘We have no time. Believe me, if there had been time and there had not been the need for absolute secrecy on it, it would not have been done this way. I've waited now for you to come out with a name but you haven't.’
She went quiet on that.
'Now, he continued, 'we have the mopping up to do but it gets easier. They're already turning state's evidence, fingered by others. I've checked those lists of island personnel quite carefully and they're kosher,' he swung round to Sophie, 'with the exception of you, of course. We think you're fine at your conscious level - Hugh is willing to take the chance.'
'Which you're not prepared to take.'
'Oh no, the reason I can't have you with me is emotional. I would want you in my arms the whole time - it was already becoming impossible here - it's not fair to R. I want you now. You have no idea just how much it tears at my heart to let you go ... and Hugh ... and Emma. That's why, Sophie.'
She'd gone red.
The events of the previous day and night were being outlined to R, Emma and Janine about 11:00, over snacks the women themselves had prepared, the housekeeper no longer being with them.
'I'd known for some time,' said the PM, 'that Mara wasn't on the level but it took R to appear and name other names, plus certain loyalists in the ranks and certain officers told me something was afoot, so we've been waiting for this. We didn't expect that they'd go the route of taking over the jail and that's still a bit puzzling. R's convinced they were quite sure of themselves.
'Let's say,' added R, 'that their plans for the takeover of the island were advanced and no one seemed to have tumbled to any of it. The jail hullabaloo was meant to draw our head people over there by proa but they weren't really expecting the amount of force we brought to bear so quickly. They weren't to know that we were organized. They also weren't expecting Hugh to recover so quickly from his injuries - he was going to be relatively easy to pick off. You'd have been kidnapped, Hugh - plus Emma.'
'One aspect they didn't seem to factor in or avail themselves of were the natives. These islanders here are completely loyal to their head man and as he and I are like that,' he made the gesture, 'then there was much intelligence coming through them. I'm not arrogant enough to blindly believe we've covered all contingencies now but we hopefully have. I can't really relax until we're off the island.
Most things had been packed and taken to the pods, there was just furniture and the books which were being left behind. It all looked quite temporary and bare now.
This is how it is at the end.
The rest of the traitors had come forward, having seen the summary executions but pardons for those confessing and they'd named names. It was decided to airlift them to Waina, with supplies for a month and that was all they were going to get. That would be done in the evening. They'd be warned about the tsunami so their work would be cut out.
Emma and R were taking care of the housekeeping side, Hugh was helping shift things via the proas and Sophie was also involved in that.
The last evening in the Big Room was strange, the place looked empty and in fact, was, the atmosphere was strange.
'We've been in your service now, Prime Minister, for some time and we'd like to just ... thank you for it all. Hugh and I had no future at the point you took us under your wing. We only hope we've been of service.'
'Have no fear of that, Emma. Your service - I like to call it your assistance - has been invaluable, vital and has helped us stay alive until now. I see these islands not just in military terms but in terms of a family. As military necessity diminishes - and I know you'll set everything up as we agreed and trained for - so the need for a patriarch and matriarch becomes more vital.
I've no fear on that score with Walter and Elizabeth, R and I will attempt to set up something similar on Western Tearoa and so the question remains whether Hugh and Emma can do likewise. I don't mind saying I have some doubts. Things got a bit ragged round the edges with you two in the latter stages and I don't know how they are currently.'
'They'll be fine.'
Janine said what the others had really been thinking. 'Sophie ... and Laurence.'
'Ah yes - that's the key, is it not?'
Eyes inadvertently turned to Sophie and she reddened, tears appeared. 'I'm such a problem for you all, aren't I? You should have thought about that before you rescued me, shouldn't you?'
'No!' Hugh was adamant. 'We don't do things for spurious reasons, from all I've been told. If we rescued you, Sophie, there was a good reason behind it. Get that clear in your brain – you’re wanted and what’s more, you’re needed. If this is stressful for you, then may we leave the topic?'
The PM looked on, nodding. 'Fine, let's move on. We'd all like to extend this evening, not to have to part, to stave it off but we're all pragmatic and know we must sleep. Perhaps we'll just toast to the future now and then spend our last night in our own way.'
They drank each other's health, Hugh and Emma would spend this one in an empty hut and Sophie went back to hers, Janine remained up at the Big House.
Halfway down the path, all three felt awful. Sophie was alone; it was Hugh who said, 'Stop! There's something I don't like here. I'm going to ask if you'd stay with me, Emma, until 01:00 and then go to Sophie.'
Emma stared at him. 'You'd share your wife?'
'Well, it’s either you or me, Emma, I’m easy about it. You choose.’
'And what if I fall in love with her?' asked Sophie, smiling.
'I have no issue with that. Gives me some free time.'
Emma was shocked. Images of Jane and her flooded back, images he could not know about, images of Nikki and her. Slowly, she released her breath and said, 'I'll be there just after 01:00, Sophie.'
As they reached the fork in the track where Sophie went off to the right, the other two could see the spring in her step. Emma nodded her approval, they went through to their hut, did their things and took to bed, beginning in, if there was such a thing, one piece of regulation lovemaking. It was 20:14.
'You never fail to surprise me, Bebe. Call me Fayette tonight, all right?'
Around 01:04, he walked her down there, she was bidden to enter but he came through too, walked up to her bed, kissed her forehead and went back to his hut.
Near the entrance stood Janine, dressed in a sari - a number of things went through his head. She circumvented these by saying she'd been walking, she'd seen him take Emma down to Sophie. It was vital to talk about a major matter and it would not wait for morning.
For a start, there was her sober demeanour, then her position at the Big House - someone quite important to the PM, so he had little real choice.
'You have me at a disadvantage - I don't remember what you once did or how I related to that. I have to go down to Emma and ask her if you can speak with me. I'll be back shortly. Go in, get into bed, it's chilly.'
She nodded and went straight in. He scuttled down to Emma as fast as he could, she'd heard him coming and came to the door. 'Fayette, did I have anything with Janine? She's at our door and looks agitated. She seems to need to speak and said it was vital.'
Emma ran it through her mind but was nonplussed. 'I can't think of anything. Will you promise to tell me?'
Janine was in bed, he climbed in the other side. 'I'm all ears.'
'How long do we have?'
'Until 05:00, as you know.'
She relaxed and realized the futility of trying to rationalize her behaviour away. 'S and I were so close.' He tried to sort out who S&I were, then tumbled to it. 'When R came on the scene, I was no longer needed but the pretence was kept up by me going on those diplomatic missions - all very important and he's grateful.'
'I was his woman, so to speak, following the loss of his wife and I'd have done a lot on his behalf - you have to understand that. Then Rory came into my affections -'
'As he did into Emma's.'
'Ah, you know about that.'
'I'm going to be blunt, Hugh. You have a wife but you have an issue in Sophie, and she’s combating her feelings for you. She developed feelings for all her 'rescuers', as she calls them but as you're a man - well, you understand? Tomorrow we go, irrevocably, to these three islands and I'm meant to be with Ron Tarpley. Ron and I go back a long way, we're very close but not in the way S thinks - he always likes to arrange things conveniently.
Don't get me wrong - I feel an enormous amount for S and I'm quite fond of Ron but this is putting me out to pasture, I'm afraid. Again, I'll be blunt. The best scenario for me is to come to your island and I'd even form a partnership with Sophie - just to be on that island and not with S and R.
He doesn't understand this in the least. He thinks we were a very affectionate team for so long, which was true of course, then his life partner comes along and I should naturally wish to be close to the two of them - together. I couldn't even bring myself to tell him last evening and now we have only hours left. Hugh, I'd die on that island.'
'You know how the numbers balance, Janine, the way they fall. Who would go in your place? Sophie?'
'I tell you this - if I were on your island, I'd marry the man or even woman I was paired with. Sophie won't accept Laurence Sanders. I know Laurence, I would marry him and then I'd be in the company of friends. I know no one else on that island of S's and if he won't be mine, then every day would be hell on earth to see him. I know you have a relationship with Sophie but Hugh, she would unbalance any island she's on - she'll stay close to both of you and asphyxiate you.' She sighed and the nicer side came through. 'And yet you can't throw her to the wolves.'
'Let's look at the third island -'
'Wal and Paul are the only two I could possibly go with, Paul loves Susan and Wal’s taken - don't you think I've thought it through?'
'I'm sure you have. You'd like me to pave the way with the PM tomorrow morning?'
'I need something, Hugh and you're the only one who can persuade him now.'
'The only way out, Janine, is if one of the other ladies from our list were willing to go with the PM. I don't know how much influence I have with the PM now but I'll certainly put it to him and try to get him to see it from your point of view.'
'I've already seen it,' said a voice at the door. 'No need to explain, either of you. May I?' He could be like a panther when he wished. Hugh liked the man.
He came through, brought the wooden chair to the bed and perched on it. Looking at the two of them, he murmured, 'Wonders never cease. Well, at least I've found Janine anyway, you're in situ, Hugh and I can guess where the other two are. Janine, I didn't ... er ... understand how you felt over this matter.'
'I didn't want to threaten your chance of happiness with R. I care for you too much for that.'
He rested his hand on her shoulder. 'As it turns out, there is one who wishes to be on our island. I told her it wasn't possible, that you'd run a humane island but she didn't like the prospect of her new partner all that much, especially as she's quite soft on Ron Tarpley but I didn't want to lose you, Janine, for obvious reasons. Maybe that was just an old man being quite selfish.'
Hugh got out of bed. 'I'm going up to the Big House now to sleep in Janine's bed and you two will have these remaining hours. I'll square it with R – I’d like the chance to speak with her anyway. Nigh nigh.'
And before either could argue, he was gone.
04:37 saw Emma back at their hut, stunned at who was in whose arms but more stunning was the smell. She had her wash anyway while they slept, slipped on her travelling sari and made her way up to the Big House to help make breakfast.
08:12 saw the other three arrive for breakfast.
09:00 saw the pod people gathered on the beach in three different groups. A speech was made by each commanding officer, questions were asked but the thing each party wanted to do now was to fraternize freely, to get to know one another and they all chatted for the next hour.
Janine was with the Gran Antides lot and Rachel had joined the Prime Minister. He now called them all together and asked if there was anyone who wished to raise any issues.
That left one thing to do.
Major-General Hamilton stepped forward and took up a position as officiant, he took a set of notes from his pocket and began a wedding ceremony, as the happy couple, the Prime Minister and R, stood together and went through the vows, the ring, the kiss and a huge cheer went up from the assembled multitude.
The last round of farewells, hugs, kisses and tears now took care of the remaining minutes. It was February 28th, 2011, at 11:33 when they entered the pods.
That's how quickly and simply life as a free people ended and the new life of trepidation began.
Chapter 9 here … Chapter 11 here